Forget switching to roaming and running up huge phone bills while you’re in Cape Town. The easiest and most convenient way to stay connected while you’re there is to purchase a local prepaid SIM card with a good call and data plan that you can top up as you go. South Africa’s telecommunications system can seem a bit confusing at first so, to give you a helping hand, here´s how to buy a prepaid SIM card in Cape Town. Just don´t forget to bring an unlocked phone with you.
Where to go
You can get a SIM card and purchase a call and data plan from the Vodacom shop at Cape Town Airport, located just after the baggage collection area. Otherwise, any official Vodacom shop or other cellular network store in the city will sell them.
Be aware that many of the places displaying MTN or Vodacom logos don’t sell actual SIMs, or can’t register them to you (see more info on that below). You’ll have no problem topping up there, but for the initial purchase, stick to official network stores or the places recommended above. When in doubt, ask for help.
When it comes to topping up your SIM card, you can do it from any cellular network store or any store that displays the network logos. Alternatively, you can buy airtime or data online via your network’s website.
Networks in South Africa
The main network providers in South Africa are Vodacom and MTN that have the best coverage, especially outside the cities, but Cell C and Telkom are both reliable options too. All offer very similar deals but you might want to shop around a bit for the best deal for you, whether you’re more of a Whatsapp user or like to make good old-fashioned phone calls.
If you’ve been a contract phone user your whole life, you´ll have to get used to the concept of data and airtime and keep an eye on your credit so you don’t get cut off in the middle of an important phone call.
Vodacom makes life particularly easy for foreign visitors to Cape Town by offering the B4I.travel service, allowing you to buy a prepaid SIM card and call/text/data package in advance via their website and then picking it up on arrival at Cape Town Airport´s Vodacom store. This means you´ll be connected from day one and don’t have to worry about finding a place to buy a SIM and registering it when you arrive. However, you will pay more for the convenience.
There are various call and data packages to choose from on the B4I.travel website, whether you want talk time, data time or both. The talk time plans include free incoming calls and very low international call rates (some from about $0.06 per minute). All you need to do is register with your basic information, provide a collection date and time and confirm your airport for pick up and you’ll receive your new phone number within two weeks prior to your arrival.
When you pick up your SIM, it will already be loaded with credit but if you need to add more during your stay, you can do it directly via the B4I.Travel website or simply go to any supermarket, petrol station, Cellucity shop or Vodacom shop and purchase a prepaid Vodacom voucher in the amount of your choice and load it on your phone.
This SIM will stay active forever providing you make or receive a call every three months. The other advantage of using this service is that you get to pre-RICA.
What is RICA?
You’ll hear the term RICA a lot when talking about cellphone plans in South Africa. It refers to the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act and is South African government legislation that requires that all SIM cards and phone numbers be formally registered to avoid criminal activity. You can do this when you buy your SIM card. It can be a little time consuming and frustrating to do but is unfortunately compulsory. You’ll need to provide your name, ID and proof of address in South Africa (a print out of the email confirming your housing reservation will do).
However, if staying with friends or in informal accommodation, you’ll need a written statement from the property owner or tenant stating that you’ll be staying at that address.
Rent a local cell phone
If you’re worrying about losing your fancy smartphone in Cape Town, another option is to rent a local cellphone. It comes with a SIM card already installed. You will have to leave a security deposit when you pick up the phone and pay for charges incurred after drop-off. One of the most trusted providers is Cellucity, who have a range of slick iPhones and other smart phones to choose from as well as trusty Nokias. The advantage is that you´ll never run out of credit but it’s hard to keep track of your usage, which means that you might end up spending more than you planned.
Got any other tips for getting a local SIM card for your phone in Cape Town? Share your experiences with our readers in the comments section below.